about renewable energy
National Grid is proving it’s serious about renewable
energy, with the largest solar power project in Massachusetts, which is
the largest roof-mount solar project in the northeastern U.S.
officials with National Grid, a large, international
investor-owned utility that serves the northeastern United States, talk
being a leader in renewable energy, they aren’t just uttering
to their one-megawatt Whitinsville, Massachusetts, solar project that
online in May 2010 and four other PV projects in the works as proof.
Altogether, the projects will total 5 MW of production when completed.
Grid Massachusetts wants to be at the forefront of renewable energy
says Fouad Dagher, the company’s solar development project
manager. “We want to
make it a reality in Massachusetts. We want to advance public
points out that renewable energy has additional values, including
benefits—such as the 1.3 million pounds of annual carbon
the Whitinsville project will deliver—that may be hard to
dollars and cents.
Whitinsville project went online it was the largest solar project in
Massachusetts and the largest roof-mount solar project in the Northeast.
impressive as its stature is the fact that the Whitinsville project
under budget and ahead of schedule. Dagher credits the cooperation of
contractor Nexamp of North Andover, Massachusetts, subcontractors, and
suppliers with the feat.
McClintock, vice president of sales for Nexamp, says his firm was able
accomplish its goals by working with National Grid from the early
stages of the
something we take great pride in and something we have refined over the
McClintock says. “We work with the client from the get-go to
operation, and that’s at the very beginning of the sales
process. We have to
plan meticulously, and we have to communicate with the
Northeast may not be a mecca for solar power generation at the moment.
Dagher says National Grid and others are in the process of changing
look at the solar data for Massachusetts and the weather data
from NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory), it’s a
great location for
solar,” Dagher says.
moderate winter temperatures in the U.S. Southeast are better for solar
generation than Massachusetts. But the Northeast is better in the
the region’s moderate climate is more conducive to solar
generation than the
100 degree-plus-temperatures the Southwest typically experiences.
Whitinsville, Massachusetts, solar project (above) and four other PV
solar projects that National Grid has in the works in Massachusetts
will total 5 MW of production when completed.
does well in cool, sunny climates,” he says. “Here,
today [early November], is a nice solar day—bright sun; cool
weather, so the
performance of the system will be great.”
Whitinsville and the firm’s four other solar projects were
made possible by the
commonwealth’s 2008 Green Communities Act.
legislation, utilities are allowed to own up to 50 MW of solar
deregulation, utilities could only own transmission and distribution
but no large solar generation facilities.
addition, the Green Communities Act requires all of the
utilities to enter into long-term contracts to purchase at least 3
their electricity from renewable generators. National Grid has signed
agreement to buy power from the nation’s first large-scale,
farm—Cape Wind—when it comes online at the end of
In light of
the legislation, Dagher says National Grid began looking at the
property and facilities it already owned in late 2008. Of the 20 or so
he says they narrowed it down to five including Whitinsville.
utility’s New England Distribution Center warehouse in
nearly two acres of roof space, was chosen because of a relatively
roof surface and proximity to distribution lines. It also is the only
mount of National Grid’s five solar projects. The other
Everett, Haverhill, and Revere—are ground mount.
Whitinsville site selection was completed, National Grid submitted the
to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities in March 2009.
necessary approval and permits was relatively easy, partly because
Grid had already discussed the proposed project and its benefits with
regulatory and elected officials.
great relationship with all of the state agencies and even with the
municipalities,” Dagher says. “We were really
thankful, and they were more than
welcoming of the projects, because they too want to promote renewable
within the community.
interesting some of the comments we received, like ‘this is
the best thing
outreach even extended to schools and community groups to educate them
the value the project would bring.
solutions to climate change and the environment,” National
Grid explained to
Grid began legwork on the project soon after utilities department
October 2009, including starting discussions with manufacturers and
unions, all of whom were interested in becoming party to the project.
National Grid officials decided to finance and own the $6.5 million
itself rather than go with a Power Purchase Agreement because of the
which they wanted to bring the project online.
want to wait for developers to come knocking at our door,” he
says. “We wanted
this to be a three- to four-month project. We wanted to have this
started in March and installed and be in service by the end of
utility’s New England Distribution Center warehouse in
Whitinsville, with nearly two acres of roof space, was chosen because
of a relatively unobstructed roof surface and proximity to distribution
lines. It is also the only roof mount of National Grid’s five
solar projects. The other four are ground mount..
addition, owning the solar facility fit into the firm’s
long-term plan to be a leader in developing renewable energy, Dagher
As owner of
the solar facility, National Grid retains the renewable energy credits
plans to sell them on the open market.
says the project will cost each of the utility’s customers
about 1 cent per
month over the 20-year life of the project.
Whitinsville project actually comprises two attached buildings. The
building raised some initial concerns about whether it could carry the
additional load from the solar panels, each of which weighs 41 pounds.
Dagher says an engineering analysis showed it didn’t need
second building actually was constructed with solar in mind.
says National Grid made sure that the roof could support the additional
of the solar panels as well as snow loading and wind load factors.
National Grid put out requests for proposals for the project, Dagher
utility wasn’t necessarily looking for local respondents. It
companies that could provide the best products and services for the
was fortunate that many of the winning bidders happened to be based in
Massachusetts. General contractor Nexamp is based in North Andover, and
Evergreen Solar, the PV panel supplier, is based in Marlborough.
out to other firms and looked at the delivery schedules, and that was
into consideration,” Dagher says. “We looked at
what they could deliver and
what types of support and warranties they could provide.”
National Grid sought a general contractor that had experience with
installations of at least 50 to 100 kilowatts. The firm also wanted a
contractor that could provide a large number of experienced workers
the bill, having installed a total of 3 to 4 MW of solar before
have a skilled labor pool from which to draw, so it wasn’t
really a challenge
to find skilled labor,” he says.
they also sought a contractor that shared similar views on worker
focused not only on the quality but also on the safety,” he
says. “We don’t
want any accidents. We don’t want anybody to be working in an
did National Grid have a safety representative on the site the entire
it also hired an independent quality assurance firm to appraise the
and communication were key because the solar system was being installed
roof of an active distribution center,
identified the slots where we could bring in trucks for the solar
advance and what routes to take,” he says. “We had
to have a lot of
coordination between staff of the warehouse and the
was also a factor, since it was a distribution facility.
credited “meticulous planning” for being able to
install the system with only
National Grid put out its RFPs, it also wanted to use union labor.
Electrical Contractors of Holden, Massachusetts,
provided the electrical modifications
to the North East Distribution
building to aid installation.
Associates Inc. of
Boston—comprising the International Brotherhood of Electrical
Workers locals 96
and 103—performed the electrical installations as
very impressed with their ability to learn the trade very
quickly,” Dagher says
of the unions. “They worked on the roof, pulling wires and
connecting it. They
were absolutely impressive.”
Energy of Cambridge, provided design and installation oversight for the
Solar Inc. of Marlborough, manufactured the 4,683 210-watt PV panels
Grid used the S-5-PV Kit to attach the panels to the seamed metal
kits from Colorado Springs, Colorado-based S-5! allow installers to
securely mount PV panels without penetrating the roof.
for the Whitinsville project were from SMA America of Rocklin,